David Hallam: Should we be scared or excited about robots?

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The robots are here. That might sound like a line from science fiction, but it’s a reality we have to embrace. From the cars we drive to the food we eat, we’re now in the grip of a robotics revolution and Lincolnshire is included, whether we want to be or not.

Tough times lay ahead for business if you heed Chancellor Philip Hammond’s forecasts from yesterday’s budget announcements. The outlook for tech appears not to lie in the hands of the government, but from those innovating. In the global scheme of things, the likes of Elon Musk’s Tesla, Inc are pioneering the use of driverless cars, which will likely be the first truly autonomous tech that will trickle down to the rest of the world’s economy. Driverless trucks could well change the face of supply chain logistics. Couple this with factory and engineering automation and you have both a raft of opportunities and a challenge to surmount.

In the more immediate future, robotics are already widely used in many Lincolnshire businesses. From food processing to print and design, the sci-fi visions of yesteryear and the often-fantastical visions we used to watch with awe on Tomorrow’s World are becoming a reality. This kind of quick change is likely to continue apace.

Often the immediate reaction here is fear. A sinking feeling takes hold that jobs will be swallowed up or that somehow, we’ll end up in a dystopian future of our own creation. The reality is that robotics are already a part of our lives and the very definition of a robot is changing too.

The humanoid automaton idea is long gone as the only kind of robot that exists. These days, digital and physical automated processes that save time and effort are making businesses leaner – not in terms of staff, but in terms of what they are able to offer. Time gained back on other projects allows for innovation elsewhere within businesses.

Of course, jobs will change in the next decade, but progress rarely stops for compassionate reasons. Robots are only as good as the people they work with – after all, nothing can truly replace the complexity of the human mind.

The Lincolnshire business community is getting behind this revolution too. The progressive and forward-thinking Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) also champions investment in robotics and tech. With Lincolnshire often being referred to as the country’s food capital, it’s not surprising to find that agri-tech is being vaunted as the next industry change. Farmers, producers and processors are at the cusp of this exciting new frontier.

This of course knocks on to the county’s logistics. As well as infrastructure improvements, this means that robotics and digital tech can go hand in hand with tangible, visible change. This is evident in improvements to our roads, business communities and the ways in which we do business.

We should not run scared from the future; after all isn’t the adage ‘we’ve always done things this way’ the most damaging way of thinking in business?

Embracing tech instead should be applauded. If customers or clients can expect a certain level of service from you now, why shouldn’t you improve on that further? Those who seek to innovate with the times will prosper as they always have. The time for change is now – so don’t get left behind.